The revival of category III rated Chinese erotic cinema continues with “Due West: Our Sex Journey”, based on the popular internet writings of Xiang Xi Murakami Haruki. Like the recent global hit “Sex & Zen: Extreme Ecstasy”, the film was shot in 3D, and comes from the same team, again written by Mark Wu, who also worked on the screenplay for “Lan Kwai Fong”, and who here makes his directorial debut. Taking the male lead is Justin Cheung, a man with plenty of genre experience, having starred in both “Sex and Zen” and the ridiculous but enjoyable “The 33D Invader”, backed by Wu himself, plus, of course, an impressive number of attractive actresses from across Asia, including Jeana Ho (“Hong Kong Ghost Stories”), Celia Kwok, Angelina Zhang, Daniella Wang, and Japanese AV idol Kizaki Jessica.
Justin Cheung stars and narrates as Frankie, a young Hong Kong man brought up in a strict middle class family, his every move closely monitored by his authoritarian mother. The film first charts his school years and sexual awakening, when his best (not to mention only) friend Jing sets him up with his dream girl on a camping trip, only for him to get drunk and lose his virginity to someone far less appealing. Skip forward a few years, and the twenty something Frankie is back from studying in the UK, working hard and in a relationship with a beautiful flight attendant called Zeta (Celia Kwok). Unfortunately, Zeta isn’t really a girl who enjoys bedroom fun, and so when on a pleasure-seeking trip across the border to Dongguan with Jing (Gregory Wong) and colleague James (Mark Wu), Frankie finds himself tempted by the delights of Mainland prostitutes, in particular the gorgeous and kindly Xiaosi (Daniella Wang). Conflicted by his feelings for Zeta and these newfound sexual possibilities, Frankie tries his best to do the right thing, while learning more about himself and life.
Even without being familiar with the source material, “Due West: Our Sex Journey” comes across as being faithful to the writings of Xiang Xi Murakami Haruki (presumably a pseudonym). Given that the film is based on what is essentially a series of short stories, vignettes and essays, the idea of writing in a central protagonist in the form of Frankie is a perfectly acceptable one, and though his voice over can at times feel rather redundant, it does allow for a few biting jabs. To its credit, Mark Wu seems to be aiming for more than just sex and gags, working in some social commentary and vaguely cynical observations on modern dating and male desires. On this score, the film and its script walk an odd line between satire, realism and cheap male wish fulfilment, with a tone that’s hard to pin down, Wu seeming to be both espousing the values of frequenting prostitutes, and laughing at the men who do so – and by extension, at the more titillation-seeking members of the film’s own audience.
Still, though a little uneven at times, for any category III rated sex film to show even hints of a social conscience is a welcome move, and “Due West” manages to combine this with an enjoyable coming of age story, charting Frankie’s journey to a manhood of sorts. Although there’s admittedly not much in the way of drama, or a big build up to anything revelatory, this actually benefits the film, giving it a kind of laid back, amiable feel. Frankie is a likeable enough dolt, and while it’s hard to really care about what happens to him, the script does at least lift him and his friends a few human notches above the usual kind of sleaze-hounds who usually populate such films. This helps to keep the film moving between its action scenes, and to justify its surprisingly long running time of nearly 2 hours, enough so to keep fans of the form and of Xiang Xi Murakami Haruki entertained, and everyone else awake.
Needless to say, all other considerations aside, there’s only one reason the vast majority of viewers will take an interest in the film, namely its scenes of sex and nudity. Thankfully, thrill seekers can rest easy, as Wu packs in a huge amount of racy content, with many long sequence of stripping and coupling, pretty much the entire female cast appearing naked and in various states of undress. Pleasingly, aside from a few moments of gross out humour here and there, the film is far less offensive and misogynistic than most other category III outings. Much of the sex is comically awkward, clumsy, Justin Cheung going through more humiliation than most of the actresses, and this helps make the film much more of a guilt free and harmless exploitation fun, even if its moral compass is rather random and askew.
“Due West: Our Sex Journey” is definitely a more generally accessible piece of Chinese eroticism, and despite lacking the wackiness of “Sex and Zen”, it should be enjoyed by the same crowd. Though its stab at social commentary may at times feel misguided, the film certainly delivers in terms of sex and nudity, and combined with a generally good humoured approach, it makes for fun and entertaining viewing.
Mark Wu (director) / Fung Lam, Mark Wu (screenplay)
CAST: Justin Cheung … Frankie
Gregory Wong … Jing
Mark Wu … James
Mo Qi Wen … Zoey
Jessica Kizaki … AV Girl
Daniella Wang … Celia
Angelina Zhang … Margaret